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June 27, 2011

Out to Lunch, Back in Seven

Days, that is.

Out To Lunch

There might be some light blogging as we've already run out of gin.  Then again, we're buying more gin.

J.

June 27, 2011 at 11:34 AM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 24, 2011

Something’s Full of Something

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has surveyed the planet’s resources, and examined its current population and has come to a startling conclusion:

The earth is full.

And to think it became full just 57 years after he was born.

Talk about a lucky break!

But now it’s full and we have to find some solutions, none of which appear to involve the demise of Thomas Friedman.

According to Mr. Friedman, we’ve “crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once,” but asks why can’t everyone see that the earth is full?

According to the “veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur,” Paul Gilding,

“The only answer can be denial.”

Well, denial plus experience. Which is kind of the same thing.

As far back as 200 years ago, Robert Malthus warned of the grave dangers of unrestrained population growth and the capacity of humans to sustain their ever-expanding numbers. 

That was about six billion people ago.

Then in 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote “The Population Bomb,” which warned of widespread famine and despair in the 70s should population growth not be immediately checked.

We do recall widespread despair in the 70s but that probably had more to do with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and the preponderant use of the color orange in home decor than food shortages.

Regardless, through this deadly combination of denial and centuries of solid experience, humanity seems to be willing to ignore the crisis.

According to Mr. Friedman:

“We’re currently caught in two loops: One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability.”

Here is a chart of global food prices since 1990.

Food Prices

There is only one conclusion you can draw from a period in which food prices spiked dramatically while population continued to climb at the same rate it always has and we experienced global cooling:

Population growth and global warming caused food prices to spike.

Numbers don’t lie, folks.

Friedman goes on:

“At the same time, improved productivity means fewer people are needed in every factory to produce more stuff.”

Exactly. As the renowned macroeconomist Barack Obama explained:

"The other thing that happened though, this goes to the point you were just making, is there are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. If you see it when you go to a bank you use the ATM, you don't go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport and you use a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate."

Progress. Is there anything it doesn’t ruin?

Friedman concludes:

“So if we want to have more jobs, we need more factories. More factories making more stuff make more global warming, and that is where the two loops meet.”

We’ll call this “Thomas Friedman’s Loopy Theory of Economics.”

To be fair, perhaps someone ripped out the last few chapters of his American History text book, since today's modern American economy consists of about six times the number of service jobs than “factory” jobs, as increasing productivity in manufacturing has lead to the creation of new jobs and greater prosperity for all.

According to Mr. Gilding, that has to end. We must move to more of a “happiness-driven growth model,” and away from a “consumer-driven growth model,” by having people working less and owning less.

“How many people lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.”

I guess I only think that an iPad makes me happy. What I really want to be doing is taking a walk though a park.

With an iPad.

Okay, this happiness-driven growth model is going to take longer to get used to than we thought.

But then, according to Gilding:

“We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.”

Thanks, Mr. Gilding!

We think.

J.

June 24, 2011 at 10:49 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 22, 2011

You REALLY Don’t Want to Make The Mistake of Saying “Merry Christmas” to These Guys

In an obvious attempt to broaden their appeal and perhaps generate some good will in the local community, Atheists in New York are demanding that a street sign that honors seven firefighters killed on 9/11, be removed.

It must be one of those new “edgy” marketing campaigns.

Seven in Heaven Way The sign in question renames part of Richards Street, “Seven in Heaven Way,” in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.

Ken Bronstein, president of New York City Atheists, and a man who possibly has never looked closely at a coin, noted that:

“There should be no signage or displays of religious nature in the public domain. It’s really insulting to us… And it’s a totally religious statement. It’s a question of separation of church and state.”

Indeed it is. In fact, there could not be a more blatant attempt by the government to establish a religion than through the use of its powerful street-naming authority.  Why, we almost converted to Presbyterianism on the spot. And we were born Catholic.

When it was suggested that condemning a sign meant to pay tribute to local heroes who had died while "pulling victims from burning rubble" might not be the best form of community outreach, Mr. Bronstein demonstrated his obvious PR acumen by pointing out that:

“It’s irrelevant who it’s for.”

While Mr. Bronstein hardly needs any help in winning over hearts and minds, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, backed him up:

“It implies that heaven actually exists. People died in 9/11, but they were all people who died, not just Christians. Heaven is a specifically Christian place. For the city to come up and say all those heroes are in heaven now, it’s not appropriate."

"All memorials for fallen heroes should celebrate the diversity of our country and should be secular in nature. These heroes might have been Jews, they might have been atheists, I don’t know, but either way it’s wrong for the city to say they’re in heaven.”

He then added:

“It’s preachy.”

We already knew Atheists don’t believe in God, but apparently they don’t believe in irony either.

Not being the most religious people here at Planet Moron, we feel for these clearly abused atheists and the oppression they must feel at the hands of Christians as they try to force their beliefs upon them using such standard religious totems as Christmas Creches, crucifixes, and DOT-approved reflective paint.

Therefore, we’ve decided to help them out in their campaign to rid our street signs of such offensive religiosity.  They can start on these:

Heaven St, Smith Creek, Warren, NC 27563

Heaven Dr, St Stephen, Berkeley, SC 29479

Heaven Ln, Cherry Valley, Butler, PA

Heaven Ln, Fort Myers, Lee, FL 33908

Heaven Cir, Jefferson, Jackson, GA 30549

Heaven Ln, Mars, Butler, PA 16046

Heaven Ln, Townsend, Blount, TN 37882

Heaven Ave, Moab, Grand, UT 84532

Heaven Ave, Los Angeles, CA 91364

Heaven Ave, St Albans Town, Franklin, VT 05478

Heaven Dr, St Stephen, Berkeley, SC 29479

Heaven Dr, Walnut Cove, Stokes, NC 27052

Heaven Dr, Sparks, Washoe, NV 89434

Heaven Dr, Rainbow, San Diego, CA 92028

Heaven Dr, West Jefferson, Ashe, NC 28684

Heaven Dr, Green Bay, Brown, WI 54311

Better get cracking, guys.

J.

June 22, 2011 at 06:37 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 21, 2011

WARNING: The Surgeon General Has Determined That You Make Decisions Other Than Those The Surgeon General Would Make – Part II

As we had written about last fall, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, required the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come up with new mandatory advertising guidelines that were to include ever more graphic warnings to be placed on packages of cigarettes and points of sale.

They whittled down many fine contenders to come up with nine finalists (pdf). Among the winners coming soon to tobacco stand near you:

Cigarettes Cause Cancer

Cigarettes Cause Fatal Lung Disease

Of course, it’s not so much about you.

It’s about the children.

“This bold measure will help prevent children from smoking…  

President Obama is committed to protecting our nation’s children and the American people from the dangers of tobacco use. These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking and they will help encourage smokers to quit, and prevent children from smoking.”

How were these disgusting pictures chosen?

Science!

“In making selections, FDA considered its review of relevant scientific literature, more than 1,700 public comments, and results from its 18,000 person study.”

However, the fact that FDA administrators believe that really gross depictions of death and disease will dissuade our nation’s children from taking up cigarette smoking strongly suggests that FDA administrators spend way too much time in the office and not enough time with their kids.

What's in Ned's Head Whether it’s a science kit that allows you to make realistic-looking fake snot and vomit, or a toy head out of which you pull foul and disgusting items, being gross actually holds great appeal to children.

In other words, after over a year of study, millions of dollars, and the concentration of the best minds in government, the FDA came up with what amount to Garbage Pail Kids cigarette warnings:

Cause Cancer

Lung Disease

Hey, kids, collect ‘em all!

<cough, cough>

J.

June 21, 2011 at 04:22 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 19, 2011

Never Judge a Book by its Wireless Connection

The Los Angeles Times takes its op-eds seriously and doesn’t allow just anyone to write them. So when it came time to publish an opinion piece regarding how the Kindle measures up in comparison to printed books, they turned to an expert:

Sara Barbour.

Sara Barbour describes her credentials early in the article:

“I've never used a Kindle.”

This could explain a lot about Los Angeles Times op-ed pieces.

This is a little unfair to Ms. Barbour as she did do some research on the Kindle:

“I've seen them in an over-the-shoulder sort of way”

Well, if that’s good enough for the Los Angeles Times, it’s good enough for us, although you might want to check the next time you read an LA Times piece on the war in Afghanistan that the correspondent didn’t base the story on something he saw on CNN “in an over-the-shoulder sort of way.”

The thrust of Ms. Barbour’s argument for the superiority of printed books is the fact that they are printed books. Coincidentally, this is the exact same argument we used in favor of the Kindle when we wrote our own review a couple of years ago. However, we made the amateurish error of actually purchasing and using a Kindle first.

But then, what can you expect? Planet Moron is just a blog. We never went to J-school and simply don’t understand the important role ignorance plays in informing the public.

Regardless, she makes a strong case for printed books:

“And then there is my childhood habit of making books into companions"

This is starting to sound less like an op-ed and more like a DSM entry.

"It isn't just about reading 'A Wrinkle in Time' — it's about my copy of the novel, with its cover appropriately wrinkled from hours of bathtub steam. I delight in the number of cracks on a spine.”

For the record, my own Kindle has a stain where I spilled a Jack Daniels on it as I passed out trying to make my way through a David Kessler book.  Ah, the memories…

“In eliminating a book's physical existence, something crucial is lost forever. Trapped in a Kindle, the story remains but the book can no longer be scribbled in, hoarded, burned, given or received. We may be able to read it, but we can't share it with others in the same way, and its ability to connect us to people, places and ideas is that much less powerful.”

She does have a point. By trapping a book in a Kindle, what with its Internet connection, social networking capabilities, capacity to display within the text how many times other people have highlighted and saved certain passages, and ability to access your entire collection through any wireless connection, its ability to connect us to people, places and ideas is that less much powerful than the printed book, what with its ability to become cracked, wrinkled and steamed.

For Ms. Barbour, printed books set her on her journey:

“If it weren't for the signature in that stolen copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ I wouldn't have felt a personal responsibility for books and their authors, a conviction that led me to New York to study at the only university with a great books curriculum.”

See, a single book established a conviction within her and set her on her life’s journey.

If it weren't for the gift of that galley of "The United States of Arugula," I wouldn't have developed the friendship with my boss, a food editor, and that was what made me realize that exploring the place of food in our lives was what I really wanted to do.”

You know that first book that established a conviction within her and sent her on her life’s journey? Yeah, never mind. Now this book, this one really established a conviction within her, one totally unrelated to that first conviction on which she spent four years of her life and tens of thousands of dollars. 

If we were her father, we’d have taken away her books.

“But once we all power up our Kindles something will be gone, a kind of language. Books communicate with us as readers — but as important, we communicate with each other through books themselves. When that connection is lost, the experience of reading — and our lives — will be forever altered.”

Imagine if the Kindle had been invented first, that you could have immediate access to all the world’s great written works through a small, portable device. One that allowed you to take notes, highlight passages, and tweet or otherwise share those passages with your friends in an instant. And one that allowed you access to your entire collection through a variety of electronic devices, even your phone.

Now imagine that after centuries of that, someone invented the “printed book.” What might a Sara Barbour op-ed look like in this alternate reality?

“But once we crack open our printed books, something will be gone, a kind of language.  Kindles communicate with us as readers—but as important, we communicate with each other through the Kindle’s social networking options. When that wireless connection is lost, the experience of downloading – and our lives – will be forever altered.”

You know how our life has been forever altered?

We’re going to stop reading the Los Angeles Times.

J.

June 19, 2011 at 09:32 AM in Books | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

June 17, 2011

It’s So Delicious, Even A…

New York Times foodie columnist Mark Bittman has identified the two principal problems with the American diet:

  1. You are a caveman.
  2. And an idiot.

And yet, he still endeavors to save us from ourselves.

In a recent column, Mr. Bittman explains that we have a primal urge to eat meat whenever we can because it was once difficult to procure with any regularity and yet contains useful nutrients. 

So, you see, you don’t eat that double Whopper with cheese because you enjoy it and believe it offers a reasonable value, you’re basically operating on instinct, like a leopard stalking its prey in the jungle.  With a debit card.

Add in the unfortunate advent of widespread prosperity and the ready availability of meat and you have what Mr. Bittman terms:

“A deadly combo.”

Abundant food and prosperity.  Oh, good Lord, what have we done?

As if it’s not bad enough that you are a caveman, you are also an idiot.

“Beyond instinct and availability, there’s a third factor: marketing. When you add 'It’s what’s for dinner’ to the equation, you have a powerful combination: biology, economics and propaganda all pushing us in the same direction.”

Basically, you are a big dumb leopard who is only stalking its prey in the jungle because you saw a commercial for flame broiled gazelle while watching Two And A Half Men reruns.

There is hope, though: The superior Europeans with their advanced cultures and smart-sounding accents.

“Now, some European countries appear to be leading the way out of the abyss, not only with the food they call ‘biologically’ produced (a term roughly equivalent to 'organic') but in saner ways of eating, which start with cutting back on some animal products; Germans’ per capita consumption of meat is down about 20 percent since 1990.”

Mr. Bittman does point out that American meat consumption has also declined in recent years, but only slightly and probably because of the bad economy and rising prices, although he admits:

“Maybe conscious eating gets some credit also.”

Hey, you never know!

It's not that Mark Bittman has no respect for you, in fact, he finds you all quite amusing:

"Another day in Iowa, where complete strangers say irony-free things like 'Jeez! Thanks for stopping by!' (Think Frances McDormand in 'Fargo.')"

In New York, everything is meant to be ironic, including standard greetings like "Hello," and "Hey, stop, that's my purse!"

"It started with a visit to the Chit Chat Cafe in Thornton (remember: no irony!)"

You commoners are SO cute!

Cute, yes, but we eat things in proportions that Mark Bittman disapproves of.  Someone needs to save us. Someone needs to show the way. But, who?

“[the] better-educated citizens of wealthier nations.”

Hey, you know what? That sounds an awful lot like Mark Bittman!

J.

June 17, 2011 at 08:33 AM in Current Affairs, Health & Fitness | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 15, 2011

This Is Your Brain on Glue Dots

Our old Alma Mater, the Delaware Valley School District, in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, has found itself in trouble simply for being willing to fight the fight few dare to even name:

Putting an end to drug-impaired scrapbooking.

As part of a policy to address presumed drug use in the school, a 12-year-old girl who wanted to join the school’s scrapbooking club was told she had to submit a urine sample for drug testing and then undergo random tests during the year.

This is absolutely necessary of course as everyone knows that scrapbooking is the gateway extracurricular activity.  Next thing you know she’ll be joining the A/V club, and when that isn’t enough she’ll go completely hardcore.

And join the band.

We know what you’re thinking:

“You were in the band, weren’t you?”

Okay, so we were in the band, but we were never in the A/V club.

We weren’t cool enough to be in the A/V club.

But none of that is the point, the point is that scrapbooking under the influence can lead to serious societal harm, such as pasting concert tickets in backwards, misordering bar mitzvah photos, and using festive St. Patrick’s Day stickers on your Easter Egg Hunt page.

Naturally, the American Civil Liberties union, which has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the mother of the future scrapbooking enthusiast/heroin addict, argues that the law is unconstitutional in that before school authorities can be permitted to subject her to mandatory drug testing, they should first be required to establish some specific suspicion that the girl might be using drugs.

Well, other than the fact that she wants to join the scrapbooking club.

This is all part of a disturbing movement in America in which radical right-wing extremists are promoting the dangerous notion that “government should be limited to only what is in the Constitution,” perhaps best epitomized by extreme radical right-wing conservative congresswoman Michelle Bachman.

We simply can’t let these people get away with their hateful ideas. But not to worry, we have courageous journalists ready to confront these freedom-mongers and Constitution cultists right to their face:

"You have said in the past that you feel very, very strongly – and this is before the Tea Party movement got started. You feel very strongly that government should be limited to what it is allowed to do in the Constitution. Now, the fact is, when we have to change things in society, government has had to provide incentives to capital to move into certain areas. Think about energy, think about the environment."

"Do you really believe that the federal government should offer no incentives, should undertake no planning with anything that doesn't have to do with powers granted to them in the Constitution?”

Really Ms. Bachman, do you actually intend to uphold your oath of office and demand that Congress's enumerated Constitutional powers be limited to those enumerated under the Constitution? What kind of twisted logic is that?

And so we applaud the efforts of our old home-town school administrators for their willingness to go beyond what it may or may not technically have the right to do under the Constitution and test those 12-year-old scrapbooking girls, because maybe then, they’ll know what freedom is truly all about:

Subjecting yourself to the unencumbered power of the state.

We think Jefferson said that.

J.

June 15, 2011 at 03:57 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 13, 2011

Maybe A Professor Could Research This

A recent study (pdf) addressing the spiraling tuition costs at American universities suggests a course of action that can only be described as radical:

Have professors teach students.

The word you’re looking for is “revolutionary.”

Of course, having professors teach students is like having bacon with eggs. It’s a ridiculous proposition. No one is going to do that.

However, according to one of the study’s authors, Richard Mr. Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University:

"In a study for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Christopher Matgouranis, Jonathan Robe and I concluded that tuition fees at the flagship campus of the University of Texas could be cut by as much as half simply by asking the 80% of faculty with the lowest teaching loads to teach about half as much as the 20% of faculty with the highest loads. The top 20% currently handle 57% of all teaching."

What would be the practical implications of such a proposal?

That would require the professor to be in the classroom for fewer than 200 hours a year.”

Do the math, and you have to wonder what Mr. Vedder and his colleagues have been smoking lately.  We’re talking as much as five solid weeks of classroom work a year. When are they supposed to find time for that what with all their research obligations? You think those elbow patches sew themselves on tweed jackets?

Of course, something would have to give, and if you want professors teaching we have to face the very real possibility that it would take time away from their invaluable research. As Mr. Vedder points out, professors barely have time now to have created 21,000 articles about Shakespeare since 1980.

No doubt you are asking yourself, “Only 21,000? Surely there is more critical research that needs to be done on the man and his 500-year-old plays!”

The problem is you already have 15 of the 70 top colleges and universities requiring English majors to take a course in Shakespeare. That’s 15 colleges that already have professors teaching students in the classroom rather than exploring how lovesickness discourse represents and shapes love and transgressive erotic subjects in Twelfth Night.

Hey, if we don’t explore how early modern patriarchy is neither static nor seamless, and that the construction of gender and sexuality is fluid and heterogeneous, you can bet the Chinese will.

So enough of this “professors should teach students” crazy talk and let’s get back to what made American universities the envy of the world:

Crooked sports programs.

Professors teaching, sheesh. Next thing you know they'll want students to learn.

Shaping Young Minds

J.

June 13, 2011 at 02:33 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 10, 2011

Also, You’re “Probably” Going to Die

The World Health Organization (WHO) caused quite a stir this week when it announced that using a cell phone causes brain cancer.

Well, not causes brain cancer, but probably causes brain cancer.

Okay, not probably, “possibly” causes brain cancer, which is about half way through the WHO’s list of classifications of potentially cancer-causing agents.

Cell phones now join such hazards as coffee, gasoline, being a firefighter, and eating Asian pickled vegetables, among the WHO’s “possible” cancer-causing agents.

We don’t mean to be alarmist, but if you had a cup of coffee this morning and got a call on your cell phone while you were filling your car that you needed to fill in for someone at your firefighting job in Korea, you might want to have a talk with your Met Life agent.

Today.

However, you can take at least some comfort in the fact that the actual study suggested that while cell phones might increase the incidence of one kind of brain cancer, they might actually reduce the incidences of two other kinds and that brain cancer in general has been on the decline while cell phone usage has skyrocketed.

But you know what, it’s better to be safe than sorry and by "safe," we mean needlessly scare the hell out of billions of people.

This super-cautious approach should not come as a surprise as the last of the WHO classifications, the one considered the most safe, is called, “Probably not carcinogenic to humans."

Cancer Causing

And note that it has only one entry.

Caprolactum

Caprolactam.

We have no idea what caprolactum is either, but it very well may be the only thing on the face of the earth that the WHO thinks doesn't cause cancer.

Well, probably.

J.

June 10, 2011 at 03:19 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 08, 2011

Put That In Your Hookah And Smoke It.

Hookah pipes have been around for centuries. Originally developed in Persia and then spreading rapidly throughout the East, and eventually, much of the rest of the world, the ubiquitous water pipe is particularly conducive to the social smoking of flavored tobacco, which has contributed to the ancient practice’s continuing popularity today.

If you’re like most people, you’re probably thinking, “Boy, I sure hope the Connecticut State Legislature has been regulating this age-old activity. It sounds too strange and exotic to be left to individual choice.”

This may surprise you, but the Connecticut State Legislature has long ignored the dire threat that the communal smoking of apple and cherry-flavored tobacco in a water pipe among friends presents to the general public. But this week they managed to take a break from their petty distractions, like closing a $2 billion budget gap, and finally turned much-needed attention to the state’s hookah crisis.

First, despite rumors you may have heard, the law would not force new hookah lounges that opened this year to close.  It would merely ban smoking in them.  Okay, so that would be like banning Radio Shack from selling those tiny button batteries that you always buy the wrong one of because they each have like 15 different numbers and anyway you forgot to write down the one you needed which sucks because they all look the same once you get to the store,... Wait, where were we going with this?

Oh yes, it’s not like they’re forcing anyone to shut down their hookah lounge and lose all their investment.  Those hookah pipes have many other uses and could be better employed for something less dangerous than smoking tobacco.

Like smoking pot, which the Connecticut State Legislature decriminalized shortly before it criminalized hookah lounges.

But NOT fake pot. That could you land you in some real trouble in Connecticut as they just criminalized fake pot too. It’s really about time that the state follow Kentucky’s lead and crack down on an activity that is well-known among health care professionals for being “lame” and a “huge fail.”

The law also establishes new regulations governing the operation of hookah lounges. As you would expect, Connecticut State legislators take seriously the sacred trust between themselves and those they represent and the importance that they be held accountable for the laws they pass and so made the new legislation as specific as possible requiring that the Commissioner of Public Health adopt regulations of hookah lounges that:

“…protect the health and safety of hookah lounge patrons.”

Hey, you don’t want to micromanage these people.

The problem is, according to Connecticut Senator Gayle Slossberg, vice-chair of the legislature's public health committee:

"People mistakenly believe that smoking a hookah...is not dangerous to your health and nothing could be further from the truth''

We can speak from experience here, having tried a hookah for the first time a few months ago at a party, and we can tell you that sucking sweet, apple-flavored smoke deeply into your lungs does leave ambiguous the question of whether it is unhealthy or not.

It also leaves ambiguous the question of whether or not you’re going to be able to keep yourself from vomiting all over the other guests.

Nevertheless, thanks to the vigilant efforts of the Connecticut State Legislature, the people of the Nutmeg State have been spared yet again from having to substitute their own judgment for the judgment of Connecticut State Legislators.

J.

June 8, 2011 at 04:55 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack